Falcons’ Kyle Pitts is fine with slow start to his season

SEATTLE -- Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts has maintained a cool and calm demeanor at the outset of the 2022 season.

He caught two passes for 19 yards in each of the losses to the Saints and Rams, but could be a major factor when the Falcons (0-2) take on the Seahawks (1-1) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Lumen Field.

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“He’s been targeted as a primary (receiver) plenty,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean the ball is going to go there. People are going to sit there ... it’s not just double-teams. So, that’s where it’s hard. That’s what makes football so great. There are so many different variables.”

Pitts is fine with how he’s faced a gauntlet of coverages that have included match-up zones, double- and triple-team coverages.

“Trying to get him involved is obviously important for all of us,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. “But there are other players who have shown up and made plays. It will fit within the flow of the system.”

Pitts had seven targets against the Saints and three (plus a pass-interference call on what would have been a fourth) against the Rams.

“I feel like it’s been fine,” he said. “Just going out there and playing selfless ball. Just open it up for somebody else.”

Pitts has stayed patient.

“If the ball doesn’t find my way on one play, it may find me on the next series or the next quarter,” he said. “I’m not necessarily being very (upset) about that.”

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Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota does not plan to start forcing passes into Pitts.

“Really, what it comes down to is, it’s just a look,” Mariota said. “Unfortunately, when you got a guy that plays at a high level like that, you know that he’s kind of the No. 1 priority of the defense. OK, we have to slow this guy down.”

Ragone, a former NFL quarterback, also is not a proponent of forcing passes to Pitts.

“From my experience, when you start forcing the ball at the quarterback spot to somebody, you are asking for bad things potentially to happen,” Ragone said.

Mariota contended that Pitts’ fabulous rookie season put the NFL’s defensive coordinators on notice.

“People weren’t sure really what he was capable of doing,” Mariota said. “Now that he’s exploded on the scene, and he’s done what he’s done, teams are very adamant about making sure they take care of that.”

Against two stout defensive fronts, Pitts was used more to help with the blocking.

“I would say that (blocking),” he said. “Just contributing to the team as best I can.”

Pitts is not letting all of the attention in coverage change his mindset.

“Same way, just going out there and performing,” he said. “It’s a part of the game. I mean, I’m not thinking too much about it. If I am being doubled, I’m just going out there and trying to win my matchup.”

Of course, Pitts wants the ball. But he’s fine with Mariota not forcing the ball to him.

“I’m not so worried about myself solely,” Pitts said. “Of course, we all want the ball as competitors, but if it doesn’t find (me), then it doesn’t find (me). Just taking it game by game. It’s a long season.”

While Pitts has attracted defenders like a swarm of bees, rookie wide receiver Drake London has been the most obvious beneficiary.

London, who was the eighth player taken in the draft and the first wide receiver, has 19 targets with 13 catches (68.4%) for 160 yards and a touchdown.

“I feel good because I may have opened it up for him,” Pitts said. “Seeing him flourish is great.”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

When the Falcons took a shot down the field against the Rams, Pitts was kept in to block. Wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge ended up with a 39-yard gain.

“I was in pass protection,” Pitts said. “I was with the line. We were protecting Marcus up front, and he was able to get the ball down the field to KhaDarel.”

Last season, Pitts caught more than two passes in 12 games. He caught at least two passes in all 17 games on his way to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He finished with 68 catches for 1,028 yards and a touchdown.

Pitts caught four, five, two and four passes in the first four games before exploding in the fifth game against the Jets in London. He caught nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown on the international stage.

Pitts followed the Jets’ game with seven catches for 163 yards to help the Falcons upset the Dolphins and recorded another 100-yard game in a 20-16 win over Detroit.

Pitts believes the offense is coming together.

“We’ll get over the hump,” he said. “I do feel like we’ve been fighting better than ever. This is a whole new team. We’ve got a whole different personnel, I would say.”

Pitts believes the third game will provide another opportunity for progress.

“I think it’s still early,” he said. “We are making small, detailed mistakes. But once we fix those up, I think four-quarter full efficiency will kick in.”

What will that full efficiency look like to Pitts?

“I would say (us) staying on the field on third downs and scoring in the red zone and no turnovers,” he said.

While he’s waiting for the ball to come his way, like he did in his rookie season, Pitts is working to make sure he’s ready.

“Definitely pre- and post-snaps reads,” he said of his self-critique. “How can I run it faster? Visualizing the defense. What I’ve seen during the week and what I see during the game. I’m just trying to see that faster and play faster.”

Seattle likely also will present Pitts with a complex set of coverages.

“I feel like I’m starting to see things a little bit quicker,” he said. “There is also room for improvement.”

Mariota expects the Falcons to solve the puzzle of Pitts’ coverage issues soon.

“Because once he gets going, he’s tough to stop,” Mariota said. “So, we have to do a better job as an entire unit of finding ways to get him the football so that he feels like he’s getting involved.

“He kind of gets that volume going. But, you know, we constantly are doing what we can, and sometimes the ball goes the other way. Depending on the week, as he continues to grow, I think the ball will find him.”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sun., Sept. 25 at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 2, Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 9, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Sun., Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Thur., Nov. 10 vs. at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Sun., Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Sun., Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Sun., Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Sun., Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Sat., Dec. 24, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.